Seven Days in Europe

There are growing concerns over difficulties in public access to internal EU documents. Public  access to internal EU documents is currently governed by a regulation from 2001. The Danish EU presidency will hold talks with fellow member states this week on a new version of the rules. But a leaked internal note drafted by the EU Council on 30 March indicates that access is going to be restricted. The six-page-long note says that several member states want a new definition of what constitutes an “EU document” to exclude vast swathes of material – such as informal emails – from access. The EU Council, the European Commission and most countries are also keen to exclude documents relating to appointments of top officials and judges and to introduce “special protection” for papers on competition cases, EU court proceedings, infringement proceedings and legal advice given by EU institutions to their own policymakers.

The MEP charged with scrutiny of the anti-counterfeit ‘Acta’ treaty has called for a boycott, raising prospects that parliament will reject it.  David Martin – a British member of the centre-left Socialist group – told a meeting of the trade committee in Brussels that he thinks “the hopes [of the pact] do not pay for the fears and my recommendation will be to reject Acta.” The hearing saw the European Commission and the Danish EU presidency urge MEPs to delay their vote until the European Court of Justice publishes its opinion on the subject. The commission’s best hope is that the court opinion improves the political climate.

The leader of the Liberal group in the EU parliament, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, has asked the European Commission to justify letting Greece dish out €29 million to its top political parties. The Greek parliament on Monday (9 April) narrrowly passed the measure by 155 votes out of 300. The money is to go to the five parties which made the parliamentary threshhold in the last elections in 2009. The move caused controversy in Greece, which is currently slashing public sector wages and jobs in line with EU-demanded austerity measures.

EU countries are keen for a UN monitoring mission to go to Syria as fast as possible amid reports that fighting stopped at dawn on Thursday French foreign minister Alain Juppe told press at a meeting of G8 countries in Washington late on Wednesday that: “France wants the [UN] Security Council to adopt a resolution as quickly as possible to send a robust monitoring force on the ground … to verify the reality of commitments undertaken by all parties [in the conflict].” He noted that: “We are in agreement on this point with [Russian foreign minister] Sergey Lavrov, which is a very positive element.”

The terror trial of four Swedes accused of plotting a revenge attack on a Danish newspaper that printed caricatures of the prophet Muhammad has started in Denmark. They are accused of terrorism and illegal possession of weaponry. The men – Munir Awad, Omar Abdalla Aboelazm, Mounir Ben Mohamed Dhahri and Sabhi Ben Mohamed Zalouti – could face 16 years in prison if found guilty. Three of the four defendants were arrested in December 2010 while allegedly on their way to carry out a violent shooting attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which published 12 cartoons of the prophet in 2005.

France’s conservative government has unveiled new counter-terrorism measures to punish those who visit extremist websites or travel to weapons-training camps abroad, in the wake of the killings by a suspected Islamist extremist in southern France last month. The measures now go to parliament, where they may face resistance from the Socialists, who say France’s legal arsenal against terrorism is already strong enough and that the proposal is a campaign ploy to boost President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s chances of winning a second term. The extreme-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is winning the youth vote in the buildup to the first round of voting, as she attempts to style herself as an “anti-elite” candidate railing against immigration and defending the soul of small-town France. Le Pen has led a fierce public relations drive to style herself as more palatable, modern figure than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was recently convicted of contesting crimes against humanity for saying the Nazi occupation was not “particularly inhumane”.

Russian police let hundreds of activists roam Moscow’s Red Square freely on Sunday in the first anti-government protest held next to the Kremlin, though it detained three activists who were attempting to set up a tent. Russian authorities had deemed Red Square off limits for political demonstrations. Last week they sealed it off and detained dozens of activists who had sought to hold a silent protest against Vladimir Putin’s rule. But police showed leniency on Sunday as hundreds of activists walked round the spacious square wearing white ribbons and carrying white flowers, the symbols of popular protests that erupted in Moscow and other Russian cities following a disputed parliamentary election in December. The Kremlin has agreed to limited political reforms in response to the demonstrations, but rejected the protesters’ main demand for a rerun of the December 4 parliamentary election, which government critics say was rigged.

Italian men dressed as Roman centurions have scuffled with police outside Rome’s Colosseum over their right to pose for photos with tourists in return for payment. One man was taken away on a stretcher as about 60 centurions and supporters stopped tourists entering the Colosseum, waved fake swords and tussled with police in protest at a decorum drive which has seen them banned from plying their trade outside Roman monuments. The centurions are well-known to Roman police. In the wake of claims that they were selling fake tours to tourists and pressuring visitors into handing over large sums for a photograph, 30 arrests were made last August. Rival bands of centurions fighting a turf war have also traded blows outside the Colosseum.

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